This month, the writers with #WorldWineTravel are exploring Chilean Carménère. (You can find my invitation article here.)
The writers will come at this topic from many directions, sharing their unique perspectives on this wine, its history, the various styles, and perhaps even sharing a pairing! The articles will be posted on November 23rd and 24th; you can find links at the bottom of this piece!
A tasting of new and old styles of Chilean Carménère
My inspiration for the wines I will share came from a tasting of “The Wines of Chile” held by CPalate. I received 6 wines. The idea was to compare the new and old styles of Carménère. Carménère is a grape that can have high pyrazines, the compound that gives the flavor of green pepper. It had been the practice to continue ripening the grapes to lessen the impact of these pyrazine notes. To do this, the grapes ripened to a point that gave them high sugar content and dark fruit notes, which made for high-alcohol wines that could be jammy. Today, winemakers are beginning to embrace the pyrazine notes, creating wines with fresher fruit notes, lower alcohol, and deeper complexity.
The tasting was led by Joquain Hidalgo of Vinous.com, who also writes for Argentina’s “La Nación” on wine. It was a fascinating tasting as we compared wines in each style and looked at the regions and soils behind them.
These wines were received as media samples. All opinions are our own.
Carménère in Chile
In my Invitation post, I shared a bit about the history of Carménère in Chile.
Carménère came to Chile in the mid-1800s from Bordeaux, where, at the time, it was often used in Bordeaux blends. The variety thrived here but was mistaken for Merlot. It was 1994 before it was discovered that about 1/3 of what had been thought to be Merlot in Chile was actually Carménère.
In the webinar/tasting, I learned a bit more about the regions in which it is grown. Carménère is primarily planted in LB O’Higgins, a region in the Cachapoal area of the Rapel Valley. This region was named for the nation’s first president, Bernardo O’Higgins.
Outside of that area, you find it grown in Maule, Valparaiso, Ñuble, and Metropolitana in the Santiago area and a few other regions. All these regions lie within the Central Valley Region of the country, where the Mediterranean climate is perfect for this grape.
Carménère ranks 4th in planted hectares in Chile, behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pais. It hit its peak in 2014 when almost 40,000 acres were planted to this grape and made into big, rich, overripe styles.
Big and Small Wineries in Chile
It should be noted that the majority of Chile’s wineries are large. Wine Enthusiast pointed out in an article in May by Michael Schachner that Chile has
“the largest average winery size in the world”
There is, however, a movement of smaller wineries in the country. Our friends at Advinetures wrote about the region and mentioned this.
“The country’s entire economy is dominated by perhaps a dozen large families. This means that there is a wide chasm between the big businesses and the small ones. The big businesses are, well…really, really big. And this is true within the wine industry as well. Chile is currently one of the top 10 wine producing countries in the world and one of the top 5 largest wine exporters in the world. Although there are approximately 600 wineries in Chile, the majority of the wine produced is by just a handful of wineries…” https://advinetures.ca/blog/chile-a-primer/
They go on to say,
“Big is certainly not bad with respect to winemaking in Chile but it certainly makes it challenging for independent wineries in Chile to get noticed. One such group trying to help bring smaller, artisanal winemaking to the forefront is MOVI, the Movement of Independent Vintners. MOVI was founded in 2010 by 12 small-scale wineries (less than 10,000 cases produced per year) with a focus on quality over quantity.”
We tasted through 6 wines with Joquain:
2020 Carménère Gran Reserva from Luma Chequén a brand by InVina Wines, from the Maule region. The grapes come from the cool granite soil of the Cordillera de la Costa range and some from the warmer Pencahue area with clay and sand soils. $17 SRP
2020 Carménère TerraNoble CA2 Costa from Colchagua in the Cordillera de la Costa. I think of the Cordillera as the corduroy ribs of mountains running north to south in Chile. The Costa Cordillera is the area near the coast where it is cool, and the soils are clay and ferrous granite. $36 SRP
2020 Carménère Montes Wings from the Apalta Valley in granite soils. $55 SRP
2021 Carménère Morandé Vitis Unica from the Maipo valley on the north side of the river. Soils here are gravel. $20 SRP
2020 Carménère Primus from Alpalta in Colchagua. Organic grapes from soils of granite and clay. $21 SRP
2021 Carménère In Situ from the Aconcagua Valley. The grapes hail from 2 different vineyards, one on slopes at 3000 feet asl, the other on the banks of the Aconcagua River. $13 SRP
All the wines were Carménère driven, but some had a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.
The TerraNoble and Monande Vitis Unica sit on the modern edge of the spectrum, Wings and In Situ seem to sit in the middle, and the Primus and Luma Chequen are on the old-style end of the list.
Our tasting was all too brief, and I look forward to revisiting these wines and learning more about the smaller regions.
You will learn a bit more about the Montes Wings and the Primus Carménère in my post with the #WorldWineTravel writers!
#WorldWineTravel Writers on Carmenere
Here are the links to the articles the #WorldWineTravel Writers will be sharing!
Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley of Wine Predator shares From Lost to Found in Chile: 6 Carménère from 3 Regions + Chilean Beef Stew or Chimichurri Chicken
Sharon Parsons of Wine Travels with Dr. Sharon shares Celebrating International Carménère Day with Clos Apalta Carménère.
Here at Crushed Grape Chronicles I will share Chilean Carménère and Charquican to celebrate Carmenere Day.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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